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My heart skipped a beat and my hand pause in signing the Arlington Independent School District's leave of absence that lay before me on Mr. Dowd's desk. I had not realized it would contain a condition like number three when I conceived of taking a leave of absence from my teaching job in order to care for my elderly, housebound Mother.
For four years I had been wrestling with a knotty question that is now facing many of the "baby-boomer" generation, what to do about elder care? Each vacation, major holiday and school break had been spent in making a journey from Dallas, Texas to Raytown, Missouri to be with Mom. In her case, old age is not the complete problem, her condition is complicated by several health issues that limit her mobility to the confines of her home of forty years.
During the years of teaching at James Bowie High, I became acutely aware of conversations in the teachers' workroom and lounge that revolved around the issues of parental care.
Many from Bowie's staff were making frequent treks home as I was doing. Upon return, some told of bringing Mom or Dad back to live with them . Others talked of parents that were in retirement "villages" or rest homes. . .
At family holiday gatherings my brother from Anchorage, Alaska and sister from Grand Junction, Colorado often talked about various options that Mother might someday choose. Unanswerable questions kept coming up. How much longer would she be able to live alone with the help of kith and kin in Raytown? Would friends, neighbors and visiting nurses be able to help her meet her daily needs much longer? Should her safe haven of so many years be sold and Mother moved into a modern "assisted care" facility? What was the possibility of building a ground level addition to my sister's house and having Mom relocate so far from life long friends? Would she move to Alaska or Texas to be with one of her sons? Were there other options?
At school, workmates would suddenly leave for periods of time to visit parents in far away hospitals, or to help sell the family home and put a parent into a care facility, or to attend a funeral. Those dreaded events seemed to be inevitable and drawing closer with each passing season.
While visiting Mother during the four years after returning from teaching in the People's Republic of China, several perceptions began to dawn upon me.
Since Father had died in 1973, my Mother had built a complex network of community relationships to meet her needs. Much of her network centered around members of Roanoke Baptist Church at 3950 Wyoming Street. This "family" had been standing in for many years for children that had been scattered by a modern industrial society.
Mother had done remarkably well with this system of close caring friends but now the strains of her medical needs were beginning to show. Meals on Wheels had solved part of her problem of being unable to cook, but after two years of filling in with microwave dinners and easy to prepare snacks it was obvious that her nutritional needs were not being met. She began to lose strength. In the summer of 1994 she tripped over her cane and spent several days in the hospital. Later that winter, a tether of plastic tubing to an oxygen condenser capped off 58 years of smoking and drew me into making a decision . .
Our immediate family had moved to Kansas City in 1947, when I was two years old, at the invitation of Dr. Ambrose E. Eubank MD, my father's uncle. Uncle Ambrose had established a medical practice in the Kansas City area much earlier in the century and Father had done his internship in 1939 at General Hospital under his guidance. Our home for the period between 1947 and 1957 was at 3820 Wyoming and Roanoke Baptist Church became the life long church for our family.
My neighborhood was bounded by William Volker Elementary School the north, State Line Road and Troost to the west and east, and 48th Street to the south. Vivid memories from those early years of the "old lamp lighter" and the ice man with his horse drawn wagon are with me still. The summer sound of cicadas still transports me back to summer evenings of twilight and catching lightening bugs. The clang and electrical spark of trolleys on 39th Street as well as the red, silver and green Missouri sales tax tokens that were common during the late 40's and early 50's in Kansas City are still fresh in my thoughts. The flood of '51 was an awesome experience for a child of six and to this day, in my minds' eye I see the expanse of water and the billowing black smoke as fuel storage tanks burned. Many Saturday and Sunday afternoons were spent "making the rounds" with Father to Menorah, St. Luke's, Research and General Hospital or playing in his office on the 14th floor of the Bryant Building downtown.
In 1957 we moved out to Raytown to be closer to other relatives, Dr. Dillard Eubank, MD, and Dr. David F. Eubank MD. My world expanded to include Raytown High School, Boy Scout Troop 145 and life in suburbia.
Ties to Kansas City began to weaken with entrance to Ottawa University in 1963 (B.A. in Sociology) and then a Master's program at Kansas State Teacher's College in Emporia, Kansas during 1967-8 (M.S. Education). Then for the next twenty-five years my visits in the Kansas City area amounted to only a few trips of several days or a week in length.
Mr. Dowd cleared his throat. I thought for a moment about how my teaching credentials had taken me from Kansas City to remote, windy, fog shrouded Aleutian Islands of Alaska where my Father had served as a doctor in the Army Air Corps in 1943. After two decades "at the edge of the world" the credentials had taken me to the far southwest province of Yunnan, China as a guest instructor in the Kunming Teacher's Training College. From there I had gone to the Yucatan Peninsula of Mexico, where I had always dreamed of adventuring as a child, to teach in a Rotary International literacy project; and finally to Arlington, Texas and this moment of truth.
The leave had been requested by me and granted to me in order to care for Mother due to her age and medical condition. It was my hope that within that year a more definite plan for her care could be made. My plan had been to take part time employment, perhaps at night, so that she could be looked after during the day - but condition three said: "An employee on leave must not be gainfully employed during the leave which, if granted is without pay."
I had been on several interesting "frontiers" during my life and so with a flourish of the pen, I moved on to two more new, exciting and rewarding frontiers. The leave paper was signed on May 26, 1995 and I returned to Kansas City, the prodigal son, 50 years old, unemployed and voluntarily unemployable.
Copyright 1995 William R. Eubank
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